20 Popular Foods We All Love That Used To Be Completely Different

Some foods are so familiar to us, it’s like they were always that way. However, most of the time our favorite meals and snacks have hidden stories. From fast food to fresh fruit, many of our most beloved foods have undergone mouth-watering makeovers, which changed them into the form we know and love today. Hungry to know more? Then keep reading.

1. Pizza

Cheese-encrusted pizza bases loaded with toppings practically scream “Friday night!” for households worldwide. Yet the original dish known as pizza is pretty far from what we now associate with the name. Initially an ancient snack, it went up a gear a couple of hundred years ago in Naples, according to website Ranker. Goodies were piled on flatbreads, and a tasty legend came to pass.

Savory and sweet

Immigrants from Naples landed in America, after which point the pizza (Italian for “pie”) exploded on a worldwide scale. Plus, it wasn’t always cheesy. The dairy delight was added to the mix either in 1889 or approximately 6th century B.C., depending on who you ask. You also had sweet pizzas. One thing seems to have been a constant — it was definitely a foodstuff for the masses.

2. Macaroni and cheese

Mac and cheese… what could be simpler, and indeed more satisfying? Yet this dinner table staple was even more straightforward back in the day. “De Lasanis” became the very first incarnation of the iconic meal, as outlined by Guinness World Records. There weren’t any pasta tubes. Instead you had squares measuring 2 inches, with grated cheese rather than a sauce.

Questionable origins

The recipe dates to the 13th century and featured in Liber de coquina, which translates as “The Book of Cookery.” Coincidentally, it was written by someone from Naples. Fast forward to the 19th century, and a cook named James Hemmings made the creamy treat a hit in the U.S. Though the location was reportedly Monticello, a plantation owned by Thomas Jefferson. That made skilled chef Hemmings a slave.

3. Chocolate

The 19th century looms large in the history of popular food. It’s also the period where chocolate was born, at least in the shape we know it. The chocolate bar was produced by confectionery titan Joseph Fry in 1847. His dark chocolate delight was then joined by smooth milk chocolate, which was mass-marketed by Henry Nestlé and Daniel Peter.

Cheers and chocolate

So what was chocolate like before that? As far as we know, it started out as a drink enjoyed by the great and good, such as Montezuma of the Aztecs in the 15th and 16th centuries. Explorers from Spain appear to have been the first outsiders to consume chocolate in liquid form. This was referred to as chocolatl and it reportedly had a fruity aroma.

4. Sandwich

The humble — and not so humble — sandwich has a handy, so to speak, origin story revolving around the lofty Earl of Sandwich. Back in the 18th century, he apparently introduced the world to two slices of bread and a range of delicious fillings. However, as mentioned by Ranker, there is an earlier version of the sandwich dating to 110 BCE and a figure called Hillel the Elder.

Herby goes to crusty matzo

He placed herbs in between matzo bread as a symbolic gesture for Passover. The flavor of the herbs “represented the bitterness of slavery, while the matzo bread symbolized the flatbreads Israelites baked quickly before fleeing Egypt.” It wasn’t the lunchtime favorite we know and love, but it was the same basic idea with added spirituality.

5. Hamburger

Pinning down the exact moment that the hamburger emerged is tricky. Beef in a bread roll with various accompaniments is tasty, but also an idea anyone could have had over the centuries. The modern burger came about via Louis Lassen from New Haven, Connecticut, at the start of the 20th century, as reported by ABC News. Did he give birth to the concept, though?

You maybe wouldn’t love it

Take a trip to 1st-century Rome and you would have encountered a sandwich created from minced meat with wine for flavoring. Other eye-opening ingredients include pine nuts. Then in the 18th century, it appears that Londoners munched on a dish featuring beef, nutmeg and more vino. This wasn’t a sandwich, though it did go on toast! Breakfast of champions.

6. Tacos

The 18th century is reportedly when the taco appeared. Well, not “appeared” exactly, because it was a variation on ancient cuisine. The modern-day taco is thought to have emerged from Mexican silver miners. Interviewed by Smithsonian magazine, author and Professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher connects “taco” to underground explosives — “pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder” with the same name.

Explosive revelations

He added, “When you think about it, a chicken taquito with a good hot sauce is really a lot like a stick of dynamite.” As for the historical version, it was apparently a tortilla with fillings such as “fish and cooked organs”, according to website Twisted Taco. People are keen to stress that the taco is an invention of the past century or so.

7. Pot pies

The comforting pot pie has provided nourishment across the ages. The first known pie was made nearly 4,000 years ago. The civilization of Ancient Mesopotamia had its own pastry-topped dish, containing meat from bite-sized birds, plus their organs. If that sounds unappetizing then don’t worry, it was all coated in spices and sauce — which bumps it up to vaguely appetizing.

Ancient pot pies contained birds

Pot pies, of a sort, were also eaten in the Roman Empire centuries later. The website Pie Bar notes that live specimens could somehow be placed under the crust, flying out to amaze gourmets. More familiar meat sources were added in Britain during the 16th century. As the modern USA took shape, colonists introduced pot pie over there in the late 18th century.

8. Lasagna

While lasagna is a definitively Italian meal, it wasn’t exactly what we eat today. The idea of a layered dish existed from the beginning, but the ingredients were somewhat different. Originally given the Latin name patina cotidiana, or “daily dish”, it was eaten in the Roman era and consisted of a flatbread that was stacked with not only meat and cheese, but fish. 

The recipe is more complex than you might think

What’s missing? You’ve probably guessed… tomatoes. As mentioned by the BBC, Hernan Cortes had yet to discover them on his American travels. The arrival of the super fruit in the 16th century transformed the taste and texture of lasagna. Website Ranker revealed that the classic lasagna actually featured the likes of sausage and hard-boiled eggs, so what many enjoy in 2022 is quite far removed.

9. Sushi

Sushi is famously an acquired taste, with raw fish not being everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak. The artistic presentation of the food makes it more palatable for some, yet the original version of sushi was more on the rough-and-ready side. Chinese people living between 500-200 BCE would preserve uncooked fish with salt and fermented rice.   

Isn’t sushi a Japanese thing?

Reportedly, the rice-shaped packing would be ditched and the fish consumed. By the way, you’ve probably noticed how we’ve said Chinese and not Japanese, as might be assumed. The Japan connection may stem from the modern and distinctly stylish take on sushi, which actually dates back to the 19th century and Edo-period chef Hanaya Yohei. This is called nigirizushi, or “gripped sushi”. 

10. Watermelon

What, are you kidding? Doesn’t it just grow out of the ground fully formed? Apparently not, if a 17th-century painting is anything to go by. Giovanni Stanchi (1608-72) depicted a fruit that looks almost alien, with a strange, swirling pattern within the flesh. Yet this is widely believed to be a pre-mass-market melon. 

A surprisingly icky detail

Website Insider notes that Stanchi’s melon is a normal example, not to mention ready to eat. So why are today’s watermelons so different? Essentially, they’ve been developed by farmers so the placenta is prominent. Sounds icky in a way, doesn’t it? Still, melons wouldn’t be as juicy and mouth-watering without it. Can you honestly see yourself enjoying the fruit in the painting to the same degree?

11. Banana

Wait till you see what the humble banana used to look like! The flesh is packed with large seeds that might just break your teeth on this evidence. Overall, the fruit appears bulkier and less elegant than its modern-day counterpart. How did things evolve for the banana?

Banana bonding

The sweeter, pleasantly yellow variety is actually made up of two ancient bananas which were merged by cultivators. There’s Musa acuminata hailing from southern Asia, and Musa balbisiana, better-known as a part of the plantain family. It’s believed that the banana grew in the wild some 10,000 years ago, in locations such as Papua New Guinea. 

12. Eggplant

The eggplant of recent decades is unusual enough, with its dark and chunky appearance. However, the original foodstuff has its roots in Africa approximately 2 million years ago, according to the Natural History Museum. This institution is based in the U.K., where eggplant is more commonly known as an aubergine. The fruit — yes, it’s technically a fruit — was apparently domesticated in Asia and underwent some fundamental changes.

There was a big variety

China was also a location where ancient eggplants grew. The shape we’re familiar with is only one such example: you might see eggplants that look more like tomatoes, and they can be colored everything from yellow to white. There are even some spiny ones! Ultimately, the backstory to this staple is shrouded in a fair amount of mystery.

13. Corn

Corn is found on many a table at mealtimes, yet maybe we don’t appreciate the journey it’s taken to get there. It dates back thousands of years to a particular type of grass in Mexico. Teosinte is where maize comes from, the plant on which corn grows, though it’s all pretty much the same thing. The grass was domesticated and took on quite a different form.

From grass to the Jolly Green Giant

The original Teosinte features “skinny ears with just a few dozen kernels inside a hard casing”, as described by website Treehugger. Meanwhile, Smithsonian magazine reported on a study seeking to explore the complexity of corn cultivation and the various places it was grown. From Mexico, it went to South America, where the plant gradually evolved into the familiar food on cobs and in tins. 

14. Carrot

Anyone who’s watched Stranger Things might be looking at these purple, tendril-like things and wondering whether the portals to another dimension have been opened. In actual fact, these are carrots. As you can see, they’re not orange and don’t have a cute bunny rabbit attached. They just appear rather creepy, if probably nutritious. So, how far back do carrots go, and how did they change?

They were weird-looking from the start

Website Great British Carrots identifies their provenance as 7th-century Afghanistan. Yet it notes the Ancient Greeks and Romans also consumed them, reportedly as an aphrodisiac, while the orange-colored variety was developed during the 16th century in the Netherlands. They could also be red, black, yellow, and white, making them seem even more far-out. The orange comes from heavy amounts of the pigment beta carotene. 

15. Fondue

Fondue may appear to be a relatively modern dish, served at late-20th-century dinner parties and beyond. Yet it actually has a history of several hundred years or more. Did the squidgy building blocks of fondue begin around the 18th century in France? Or does the story go back a further hundred years to the more-acknowledged setting of Switzerland?

Unexpected ingredients

 Whether made with Gruyère or cheddar, the melted cheese treat is known to have been used as a way of creating something delicious with hard dairy products and stale bread. Ranker observed the difference in older recipes, noting that “the steps call for scrambling eggs and adding them to melted cheese, creating more of a soufflé than a dip.”

16. Ice cream

Surely we’re just messing with your minds, saying that ice cream used to exist in a different form? Nope, we aren’t. In fact, the tasty dessert first makes an appearance during the Tang Dynasty of 618-907. Refrigeration had been around for a while before that, though the idea of fusing milk and ice has been traced to ancient China.  

It’s not exactly Ben and Jerry’s

Heated using flour, the texture and flavor of this early ice cream was provided via camphor, a waxy substance that comes from trees. Sweetness and icy ingredients were later found to go hand in hand. The 17th century saw sorbet enter the culinary world, with the first official ice cream of sorts being credited to one Antonio Latini, as noted by U.S. broadcaster PBS.

17. Popcorn

Corn developed from an ancient grass, but performed another leap into new areas of taste and texture with the arrival of popcorn. It’s known as a rich, buttery, somewhat expensive treat to enjoy at the cinema. But where did the art of popping corn first come into play, and what did it look like back then? Website History.com notes that 1,000-year-old tombs in Peru contain the odd piece.

How did corn go pop?

Because popcorn is a pretty simple foodstuff to make, it didn’t have much of a different look back then, it seems. The differences apparently lie in how it was heated in order to pop. History.com noted French explorers in colonial America “wrote of Iroquois [the Native American alliance] popping tough corn kernels in pottery jars filled with heated sand.”  

18. Coca-Cola

 You’re possibly aware of the earliest incarnations of the iconic soft drink, and how it was a little more addictive than most beverages due to the addition of a now-illegal drug. Website MessyNessyChic noted that the narcotic side of the popular refreshment went out the window in the early 20th century. And as for the origins of Coca-Cola, it can reportedly be found in a wine.

Soft drink, hard stuff

Yes, Coke had some classy if questionable beginnings, taking its cue from Coca Wine. This delicious drink was dreamed up in 1863 by Angelo Mariani, an entrepreneur of French-Corsican extraction based in Paris. Bordeaux met cocoa leaves, plus an extra special ingredient: cocaine. The public lapped it up, including notables such as author Jules Verne and, erm, His Holiness the Pope!

19. Cookies

With so many variations in terms of what a cookie can be, it isn’t a foodstuff that appears to have changed wildly over the centuries. In its overview of cookie history, website Dodocookiedough asserted that cookies were “any flour-based sweet cake that can easily be held in your hand”, adding they “can either be crisp or soft, thick or thin.”

How the cookie came to be

The first cookie may have been baked in 7th century Persia, or Iran, with the concept landing kind of by accident. The website notes that small cakes made as tests eventually became a snack in their own right. Where does the difference come in? This happened through ingredients, and what was available at the time. For example, chocolate chips didn’t arrive in the mix until 1937. 

20. Peach

One of the most dramatic shifts in food history concerns the humble peach. Its juicy and delicious reputation came later, once it had been domesticated. According to Insider, you could well have mistaken it for a cherry, such was its size. This was way back in China in approximately 4,000 BC. Reference is also made to its lentil-like taste!

Farmers labored to make the perfect peaches

How did peaches make the trip from savory to sweet? An article on the website of South Carolina’s Clemson University reveals not only the varied farming methods used by the Chinese to cultivate the fruit, but also the range of peaches on offer. For example, 30-plus types are mentioned in a document from 1081! Turns out there’s more to the peach than fuzz and a napkin to mop up the mess.